Should GM mustard retain pungency of mustard oil?
When it comes to edible oil, more particularly, mustard oil with pungency or without pungency remains a moot question and more so when one talks about the GM varieties.
When it comes to edible oil, more particularly, mustard oil with pungency or without pungency remains a moot question and more so when one talks about the GM varieties. Even old war horses in this field like P Mark Mustard Oil, which has been a dominant player in the market since 1933, has been raising such an issue. As this debate over whether or not the characteristic pungency of mustard oil will be retained in the GM varieties, goes on, one must keep in mind that traditional Indian consumers are accustomed to this pungency and even use it as a measure of purity and authenticity. Such consumers will be disappointed and dissatisfied if GM mustard oil fails to deliver on taste, aroma and pungency. Even as deliberations on this continue, market stalwarts like Vivek Puri, Managing Director, Puri Oil Mills Limited feels that a bigger question or the need of the hour is to proactively address the demand-supply gap in the edible oil segment. India faces a chronic shortage of edible oil and is compelled to bridge the demand-supply gap through imports. However, mustard and mustard oil can definitely play a pivotal role in driving India towards self-reliance, import-independence - and national pride.
Mind you that the demand-supply gap for edible oils is significantly wide and, therefore, difficult to bridge. The annual demand for edible oils in India is around 250 lakh tonnes, while domestic production is much lower – barely 111.6 lakh tonnes per annum, according to data published by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. This creates a gap that varies from 55 to 60 per cent.
Just a couple of decades ago, India's edible oil imports were around 4 million tonnes a year. This figure has grown exponentially over the decades and now stands at 14.03 million tonnes (oil year ending 31st October 2022). This adds up to an import bill of Rs 1.57 lakh crore, which represents an enormous depletion of precious foreign exchange reserves. This dependence on imports also leads to the onset of severe inflation as demonstrated by recent global shortages which caused edible oil prices to become almost unaffordable for common people.
Interestingly, mustard is an ancient Indian oilseed and an integral part of our country's agricultural and culinary heritage. It is a remunerative and profitable cash crop that contributes to farmers' incomes. The oil extracted from mustard oilseeds is proven to be healthy from a nutritional perspective; it is also widely used in natural home remedies, skincare, hair care, Ayurveda formulations and body massage.
The good thing is that realising all these, the Centre is proactively formulating policies and adopting measures aimed at rectifying this imbalance. The National Food Security Mission has outlined several action points aimed at increasing production and productivity of oilseed crops. These include increasing the area under cultivation; developing improved high-yield varieties of oilseeds; support for agri inputs like fertilizers and pesticides; mechanisation of key farming operations to improve productivity; and providing support to farmers for post-harvest management of oilseed crops. On a parallel track, the National Mission on Oilseed and Palm Oil (NMOOP) is also striving to boost the supply side for oilseeds. Let the traditional pungency be back on our palates.